For years, I have been telling everyone I know about Rhina Espaillat’s work, giving her books to friends as gifts, teaching her poems in my writing workshops, rereading them to renew and affirm my faith in the written word. She has been and continues to be one of my favorite American poets. Playing at Stillness displays her range—from exquisitely executed formal verse to wonderfully fluid and appealing free verse poems. Humorous and playful, astute and poignant, she never gets in her way—her craft does all the work and we delight in the results. The poems keep surprising me. Again and again as I read them, I feel deeply grateful to this wonderfully generous and skilled writer, Rhina Espaillat.
Rhina Espaillat’s immaculate verse is characterized by a bemused melancholy and serenity which are precious hard to find in American letters. A greater contrast to her contemporaries (and I believe her inferiors), Plath and Sexton, would be similarly hard to find. This is a wonderful collection in which every parent will find the best poem for a son’s wedding that I have ever read (yes, even better than Wilbur’s!) But readers long familiar with Espaillat might be surprised by the wit with which she rebukes Nature in “Back Yard Talk,” or the God in whom she disbelieves in “On the Avenue.”
Rhina Espaillat writes beautiful lines: “…shadows fall / like small change / out of the wind’s pockets.” And she turns them into beautiful poems that are a true pleasure to read.